Friday, June 3, 2011

Texas Nature Challenge: Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge

On a mission to complete another Texas Nature Challenge, we headed to the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge.



It is the largesty city-owned nature center in the United States. There are 3,621 acres of beautiful land to explore including such diverse habitats as forests, prairies, and wetlands. The property is clean and well maintained with wonderful trails and adventures.



Much of our challenge involved research in the Hardwicke Interpretive Center.



The kids liked the touching table where it was actually ok to touch the cool things they saw.



We think these are beaver teeth. Wow!



There was even a blind touching box where you co stick your hand in and try to guess what you were feeling.



Once you think you know what it is, you can lift the top up and see. Oh, it's a snake skin!



Rachel stayed glued to the red-eared sliders. She would shout, "Mommy! Look at him! He went under the wah-ter!"



We were excited to see the Speckled King Snake actually moving around. A lot of times when you see a snake in a cage it is just lying still but this guy was busy.



These Harlequin Flower Beetles are pretty cool. Their larvae grow underground before reaching the adult stage. These guys are busy enjoying an nice slice of apple.



This Alligator Snapping Turtle was as still as a statue for the longest time. He just stood there with his mouth wide open waiting for a little fish to be attracted to the little appendage on his tongue. I've never seen these before and they are really quite fascinating!



I have some friends who compost with worms. This exhibit is a really neat way to show kids the three different levels of compost - worm castings at the bottom, worm activity in the middle, and newly placed newspapers and kitchen scraps at the top level.



We went to a large window to look out at an outdoor exhibit but couldn't find an animal in it. Then Rachel noticed this little possum way up high on the wall peering down at us.



For the nature challenge, Nicholas had to answer questions by observation or by reading plaques around the property. After answering the question, he drew a picture to go with it. It made for a great journal of our visit.



We had soaked up all the air conditioning that we could so we decided to venture outside for a while.



The kids loved the owls even though they weren't moving around or doing anything.



This little guy is a barred owl and he was injured by a car. This owl's population numbers have decreased due to destruction of their natural habitats but also because they are also often injured or killed by vehicles because they are attracted to shiny objects such as foil wrappers and drink cans that are thrown on the side of the road.



This is a Great Horned Owl and he gets his name from the prominent tufts of feathers on top of his head that look like horns. He was also struck by a car and his wing is too injured to be able to be released back into the wild.



We took a little walk along the Limestone Ledge, a 220 yard trail on top of an ancient fossilized oyster bed.



We saw plenty of beautiful wildflowers that really thrive in the Texas heat.





Not everything we saw was thriving. We noticed this dead tree from a distance poking out above all of the greenery. We talked about what might have happened to it.



As we got closer to it we quickly saw the markings on the trunk that seemed to be burrowing holes for some type of bug. We're not sure if that was the cause of the tree's death but it was certainly a sign that the tree had a problem that may have weakened it.



We saw a lot of cactus that are so prevalent in Texas prairies. Usually they aren't very pretty but this one was nice because it was nestled among the wildflowers.



Nicholas loves cicadas and we found this cool shell of a cicada who had molted.



We headed over to Prairie Dog Town. As we were walking up the path we saw this tree with giant thorns and these cool spiral seed pods. The only tree I know of that has giant thorns is the Bois D'Arc tree, also known as Osage Orange. However, when we got home we did some research and discovered that the leaves on this tree are more like a Honey Locust tree.



This is Prairie Dog Town. It is a fenced off area of prairie that is the home of lots of cute little furry prairie dogs.



Stand at the fence and look out and you are sure to see one or two or three prairie dogs in sight as they poke their heads out of holes or run across the prairie to jump into a different hole. Kids love this spot. Can you see the little brown guy sitting up a little distance behind the cactus?



There are some benches here so we took a little snack break as we watched the prairie dogs.



We drove over to the other side of the property to visit the bird blind. The kids enjoyed climbing on this rock at the beginning of the trail.



The trail you take to get to the bird blind is nice and shaded which we welcomed because it was starting to get rather hot in the sun.



Rachel told me about the pictures on the trail head sign.



The kids loved the bird blind. It was like a little fort looking out over the Trinity River.



I think they looked through each and every slat opening in the there.



We watched two people in a canoe go by.



We weren't very hidden in the bird blind because they kids had fun yelling "HI" to the canoers and waving their little hands out of the openings.



I finally managed to drag them out of the bird blind with the promise of heading to the marsh boardwalk. I have to admit it was fun in the bird blind. This would be a great place for a little picnic with kids.



On our way to the boardwalk, Nicholas and Rachel found several grasshoppers.



Of course, there was also lots of running and playing on the way.



This was our first time to visit the boardwalk and it was really beautifully done. It weaves through some trees then heads out to the marsh. My kids just loved running on it.



Once you get out past the trees there is a beautiful marsh land with unique plant life and herons flying around.



At the farthest point over the marsh, there is a big covered deck area where you can see the marsh all around you. We spent a lot of time here just studying the unique landscape. The kids enjoyed poking their heads out to look down at the water. Unfortunately, Rachel dropped her hat in the marsh. It doesn't look that far away but it was about 10 feet down from the deck and I wasn't about to jump down to retrieve it for her.



She was already hot, tired, and ready for a nap so when I refused to get her hat for her she had a bit of a meltdown.



We tried to distract Rachel by leaving the scene and exploring more of the boardwalk.



Unfortunately she kept whining and mumbling about her hat. Nicholas gave his hat to her and told her that we might go home and get his fishing pole and come back to retrieve the hat. She was much better after a little comforting from big brother... but don't tell her that we aren't going back for that hat please.



This was our second time to visit the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge. Click HERE to see our visit last year when we walked around Greer Island. This a beautiful place to visit and spend some great time outdoors.



Of course, little ones may get a bit tired after a long day on the trails.



The Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge is located at 9601 Fossil Ridge Road
Fort Worth, TX 76135. Admission is $5 Adults (13-64), $2 Children (3-12;under 3 FREE), $3 Seniors (65+), $1 Discount per person (with Military ID). For more information, please visit the FWNC website.

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